Strongly Oppose COVID-19 ETS becoming permanent
Dear members of the safety and health codes board,
The purpose of this comment is to emphatically oppose making the COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard permanent. As a member of our company's management team, I can affirm without the slightest doubt that the ETS is overly burdensome and at times frustratingly ambiguous. Below I have detailed several reasons this position.
- Perhaps the most obvious and leading reason to not adopt the ETS permanently is that the COVID-19 situation is changing by the day. As our medical professionals learn more about it, the guidance changes significantly in a matter of months and even weeks. For example, if Virginia had tried to set a permanent standard during the first month of the pandemic, it would have been based on guidance that was saying healthy individuals should not wear a mask. Point being- why set a permanent standard when the guidance will still continue to change frequently and the details/implications of a vaccine haven't been determined either?
- The content of the ETS is poor (it reads like it was thrown together in a hurry).
- The definitions for very high, high, medium, and lower exposure risk hazards are written poorly and have ambiguous language. Medium is particularly difficult to figure out because it uses the wording 'more than minimal occupational contact inside 6 feet' with others. The obvious question that many employers have faced is what constitutes 'more than minimal'? The ETS fails to define it and for months now no one has been able to give me a straight answer. The ETS should never have been this ambiguous to start with, much less should it be made permanent.
- There is a significant burden on employers to purchase and consume extreme amounts of sanitation supplies, another reason to keep the standard temporary and as short as possible.
- The ETS requirement for face coverings within 6 feet of others causes employers to dedicate money, time, & resources to comply- another reason the standard should remain temporary and as short as possible. I believe Virginia's businesses are able to work with employees and the latest information on the benefits of mask wearing and side effects of mask wearing (like individuals coming closer to hear and understand you) to determine when it is the appropriate action.
- The requirements for who needs to create an infectious disease and response plan are not well-defined. 'Medium with 11 or more employees' does not clearly communicate enough detail. Taking a literal meaning, it implies that any company with at least 11 employees (regardless of how many locations or employees per location), with at least one job task classified as medium would be required to create the plan, even if just 1 employee was required to do the medium risk job task. But is that the intended meaning? Or does it mean if there are at least 11 employees that are required to do a medium risk task that then the plan is required? Can that be based on separated, individual site locations? Bottom line- a well written rule wouldn't be so ambiguous and it would save companies from having to go on a several week long wild goose chase to find an 'educated guess' answer for this.
- Employers are burdened further by training and retraining requirements in the ETS. The standard was written so poorly that any changes to the infectious disease plan would warrant retraining of all relevant employees, including all the documentation.
I could go on but the main point is that both the ambiguous and burdensome language in this standard has already put a strain on employers during these uncertain times. We have spent far too many hours simply trying to find answers that the ETS should have had clarified to begin with. The requirements that we do understand cost us a lot in time and money to comply with, which once again reinforces that this standard should not be made permanent. There is no good reason to make this ETS permanent, as it would only continue to burden employers who were already subject to abiding by the Governor's executive orders relating to COVID-19. The ETS was and still is bad for business, and I have yet to see any positive or gain come from it.
We will continue to make good faith efforts to keep our employees safe and follow public health best practices. Please support your local businesses and reject any extension of the Emergency Temporary Standard.
Thanks for your time,